Editorial: In a civilized society, not even the most vicious crimes justify a death sentence

It is soul-bruising to contemplate the torture that 10-year-old Anthony Avalos endured in his Lancaster home for more than a week before dying last year. Whippings with a looped cord and belt. Repeatedly held upside down then dropped on his head. Getting slammed into pieces of furniture and against the floor. Hot sauce poured on his face and mouth.
The road map of the abuse stretched from head to toe on his small malnourished body — bruises, abrasions, scabs and cuts visible on the outside. Traumatic brain injury and soft tissue damage on the inside. All allegedly perpetrated by his mother, Heather Barron, and her boyfriend, Kareem Leiva.
RELATED | California: Prosecutors seeking death penalty in Anthony Avalos torture case
If ever a set of circumstances called for the death penalty, this would be it. Few were surprised when Los Angeles County prosecutors said Wednesday that if the couple is convicted of the torture-murder, the jury will be asked to recommend a death sentence.
Such ca…

Dystopian Executions in Japan

Death Chamber at Tokyo Detention Center
Death Chamber
at Tokyo Detention Center
Imagine you sit on death row. You live in an isolated cell, where you are forbidden to speak to other inmates. The cell is frigid in the winter and boiling in the summer. Bright lights are kept on in your cell all day and night, making it impossible to sleep. The visits from your family and lawyer are supervised and irregular; friends are not allowed to see you.

Any moment and without warning, you can be taken from your cell and told you will be executed, usually within a few short hours. There will be no explanation as to why the Justice Ministry has decided to go ahead with your execution while others still wait on death row. You will not be able to contact your family or your lawyer. There isn’t even time for a last meal. You will be executed in secret, by hanging. Even the location of the execution site is unknown to the public. Your family and lawyer will only be informed a few days after the execution has taken place, so that they can collect your body.

Sound like the makings of a dystopian science-fiction novel? Unfortunately, you’ll be sad to learn that it’s actually the execution system of modern day Japan.

The death penalty in Japan is an institution shrouded in secrecy and brutality. Executions are done in secret, the conditions are unforgiving, and conviction rates defy both statistics and logic. There is no public accountability. The death penalty in Japan is a severe infringement of the basic rights of its citizens and a call for transparency must be demanded. As one of the most affluent and influential world democracies, Japan’s current lack of transparency regarding the death penalty is alarming, even for those who may believe that capital punishment is justified. One need only look to this year’s executions to see how Japan’s death penalty process blatantly disregards natural human rights.

What little we know about death row comes from the few inmates who have experienced it, such as Masao Akahori, who was exonerated and released after being imprisoned for 31 years due to a false confession he made after being beaten by police in 1954. Of death row, Akahori describes living in constant fear of execution, having even once been taken out of his cell for execution, only to be returned after the guards realized the execution order was for the prisoner in the adjacent cell. On death row, prisoners are also forbidden to speak to one another and live in constant isolation within the small confinements of their cell, with only sporadic, supervised visits from their lawyers or family members, and two brief exercise breaks a week.

The conditions of death row inmates’ cells are similarly bleak: inmate Masashi Daidoji, who still sits on death row, describes the cells as being unbearably hot in summer and freezing in winter in his prison diary. Daidoji writes how bright lights are kept on 24 hours a day and inmates are not allowed sleep masks for fear they might use them to make a cord to commit suicide. Inmates are also not allowed television and can listen to the radio, but cannot choose the station they listen to as to prevent them “from getting unnecessary information or stimulation from the outside world.” Printed material is often censored before it reaches inmates and the names of inmates that have been executed will be blacked out in newspapers before being given to prisoners still living on death row. If prisoners have complaints, they can make them to a Justice Ministry representative, but a representative is only legally obligated to visit the prison every two years.

Source: The Bell Towers, Laura Giunta, May 9, 2013

NB: DPN does not support some of the conclusions of this otherwise remarkable article, and specifically that "Only when Japan’s death penalty policy becomes humane and transparent can it begin to have any sort of place within a civilized democracy." DPN believes that Japan will "begin to have any sort of place within a civilized democracy" when it has implemented a moratorium on executions and initiated the legislative process that will ultimately lead to the unconditional repeal of the death penalty. DPN believes that the death penalty is inherently cruel and barbaric, and that the notion of a "humane" form of capital punishment is a misconception that can only serve to perpetuate an anachronistic punishment.

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